STATESBORO, Ga.— Georgia Southern’s seniors had one more game left in them, and at the end they got to dance inside their locker room.
The Eagles returned to what had been working all of last season and looked like the team many thought would contend for a Sun Belt Conference title.
There was little doubting the Eagles had that kind of potential Saturday at Paulson Stadium as they knocked off a Troy team that was hoping to claim a share of a Sun Belt title.
Quarterback Kevin Ellison played one of the best games of his career, wide receiver BJ Johnson made several game-changing plays, and the defense kept a prolific Troy offense in check, making a red zone stand on the final two plays for a 28-24 win. So the obvious question after the game was, where has this team been all season?
“Days like today don’t happen, games like this today against good football teams don’t happen, unless the belief has been there every day,” said head coach Tyson Summers, completing his first season with the Eagles. “It’s not just something that magically happens in one day. Today is a good example of the seniors, when it could have been easy to go the other way, they didn’t.”
Georgia Southern’s defense kept the Eagles (5-7, 4-4 Sun Belt) in it early as the Trojans (9-3, 6-2) led just 10-7 at halftime. Ellison threw his first of two touchdown passes to Johnson, a 12-yard strike to the left corner of the end zone as Johnson won his battle against man-to-man coverage.
The Trojans answered immediately with a nine-play, 82-yard drive that ended in a 3-yard touchdown run by Jordan Chunn, who scored twice on the day and tied a school record for career touchdowns at 45.
The Eagles started the second half in an offensive rhythm that has eluded them all season. They drove 75 yards in seven plays, with Ellison breaking off a 23-yard run before keeping on an option and scampering 24 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
After a Trojan three-and-out, Ellison bounced wide right on the option, found the seam and sprinted 54 yards to the end zone, putting GS ahead 21-10. Later in the quarter, the Eagles went for the kill, running a reverse pass which Johnson completed to Mike Jackson for a big gain that would have set the Eagles up deep into Troy territory, but the play was negated by a an illegal man down field penalty.
Georgia Southern punted, and Troy ignited its rally from there as Brandon Silvers threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Tevaris McCormick to make it 21-17.
Early in the fourth quarter, Georgia Southern failed to convert a fourth-and-2 from its own 48, and the Trojans made the Eagles pay has Chunn cashed in his second touchdown, allowing Troy to reclaim a 24-21 lead.
The Eagles’ offense appeared to stall before Johnson delivered what might have been the play of the year for GS. Ellison found him over the middle, and Johnson outran two defenders all the way to the end zone, carrying one defender on his back the last few yards.
“I knew when my number was called, I was going to make the play because it’s my last chance to play with my brothers,” Johnson said. “It was just a great call by the coaches. Kevin threw me two good balls, and I just did what I could to get into the end zone. I saw the open field, but I knew those boys were coming fast. I wasn’t going to be denied.”
From there, it was in the hands of the defense as Troy began the game’s final drive with 6:20 remaining. The Trojans ran 16 plays and nickeled and dimed their way to the Eagles’ 11-yard line after Silvers threw to Emanuel Thompson for 20 yards.
Troy had to use its last timeout after a 1-yard pass to Chunn with 22 seconds left. Facing a third-and-8, Silvers threw in the flat to Josh Anderson, but Jessie Liptrot tackled him in bounds, leaving the Trojans scrambling to get off a final play. The clock ran to zeroes as soon as the ball was snapped, but Silvers threw out of McCormick’s reach, and Georgia Southern rushed the field.
“I was scared to death,” Summers said of the last play. “I thought the clock would run out. I knew what the call was and I knew we had everyone set where they were supposed to be. But it was just an awesome deal, an awesome finish.”
Ellison carried 10 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns while completing 10 of 14 pass for 127 yards and two more scores.
Johnson had a career day, hauling in seven catches for 127 yards and two TDs.
“It just feels good to get the team win,” Johnson said. “We left it all on the field today, and I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”
TRY—FG Kay 37, 9:45
GS—B.Johnson 12 pass from K.Ellison (Koo kick), 11:24
TRY—Chunn 3 run (Kay kick), 6:08
GS—K.Ellison 24 run (Koo kick), 12:09
GS—K.Ellison 54 run (Koo kick), 9:28
TRY—McCormick 16 pass from Silvers (Kay kick), 2:28
TRY—Chunn 4 run (Kay kick), 12:22
GS—B.Johnson 64 pass from K.Ellison (Koo kick), 9:46
Time of Possession|30:00|30:00
RUSHING—Troy, Chunn 19-79, Silvers 10-25, B.Smith 2-20, J.Anderson 1-2. Georgia Southern, K.Ellison 10-115, Breida 15-66, Ramsby 8-37, Campbell 2-8, Crockett 1-4, W.Fields 1-(minus 4), Upshaw 5-(minus 8).
PASSING—Troy, Silvers 27-34-0-218. Georgia Southern, K.Ellison 10-14-0-127, Upshaw 6-7-0-48.
RECEIVING—Troy, McCormick 8-39, E.Thompson 7-96, Chunn 6-34, Douglas 2-19, J.Anderson 2-10, B.Smith 1-13, Letton 1-7. Georgia Southern, B.Johnson 7-129, Breida 3-7, Campbell 2-9, Fortune 1-16, K.Ellison 1-9, K.Williams 1-6, Jackson 1-(minus 1).
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.